April 14th, 2005

So That You May Know

Last week I wrote a couple of entries about the passing of my teacher, mentor, and friend Julian Boyd and provided links to others' remembrances. Today's there is more. Steven posted something nice today about the way Julian had of deflating pretense:
Julian did some teaching in American Studies, and one year, he happened to show up for a graduation ceremony ... it might have been that first one, I can't recall. We were all preening ... OK, I was preening in my black gown with the blue-and-gold hood ... and there was Julian, dressed in his street clothes, as he was every time I ever saw him except for that one visit to Kaiser when he flopped around in a hospital gown. And someone pointed out that Julian was a favorite professor of many of the students, and that he belonged up on stage, and so he joined us, and there we were, a bunch of puffed-up self-important academics in our fancy gowns, and at this point I don't suppose I need to tell you who was the best-looking person on the stage. Let's just say his only sartorial accoutrement was his cane.
He always wore the same basic button-up shirt, as white and spare as his mind. He was wearing it at our wedding, which he attended despite the pain it caused him. At the time he was suffering from a problem with his neck and spine that made even a five-block drive to the grocery story a form of exquisite torture. Yet he managed to make it all the way from his home in north Oakland to Stinson Beach, a drive which culminates in a series of switchbacks that shuttles one's head back and forth like dice in a tumbler. Of all the people I was delighted to welcome that day, Julian was at the top of the list.

Steven also directed me to the San Francisco Chronicle obituary which is longer and stronger than most of its kind and includes a tiny photograph of Julian. It also makes a fine key to my poem:
A few weeks before he died from cancer, Julian C. Boyd, professor emeritus of English at UC Berkeley, was on campus, frail and with a cane -- but glowing with excitement because he was doing what he loved, teaching students. He died at his Berkeley home on April 5 at age 73.

Professor Boyd's teaching career began at UC Berkeley, as a linguist in 1964. He focused his teaching on the day-to-day use of English and the modal auxiliary "helping" verbs such as "shall and will" and "may, might and must" - - a topic that generally doesn't excite students.

But adored by his students, Professor Boyd won the campus's Distinguished Teaching Award in 1993, after judges were awestruck by the evaluations his students had given him.

"It really was very remarkable," said UC Berkeley Professor emeritus Frederick Crews. "It was as if Julian wasn't a teacher at all. It was as if he was some sort of God. They all said the same thing: that this was the best experience I had at Berkeley."

Professor Boyd retired in 1994 but continued to teach frequently, most recently teaching a correspondence English course through UC Berkeley Extension shortly before his death from lung cancer, according to his wife, Melanie Lewis.

He was born Dec. 25, 1931, in Orlando, Fla., and was raised in Bogalusa, La. He was an energetic child who once crawled under the house and tapped into the gas main because he wanted a Bunsen burner, Lewis said.

He became a student of language and literature when he was 10 or 11 years old and spent a year in the hospital with rheumatic fever, reading mostly Scientific American magazines available in the men's ward, Lewis said.

He was learning to be a radio repairman before he left home to attend the Jesuit Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., to study science. There he discovered that the priests had wonderful hi-fi systems and started hanging out with them, picking up their love of books and the humanities, Lewis said.

Still, he was thrown out of Georgetown after two years for what he always said was "irreverence," Lewis said. His sister helped him get into Williams College, and he graduated with a bachelor's degree in English in 1952. He earned his master's degree in 1954 and a doctorate degree in 1965, both from the University of Michigan. He then started teaching at UC Berkeley, where he stayed his entire career, although he also taught in the Graduate Theological Union near campus in the 1970s and '80s.

Professor Boyd is survived by his wife, Melanie Lewis of Berkeley; two sons, Stephen Boyd of Palo Alto and Michael Boyd of Santa Monica; a sister, Elizabeth Boyd Aldrich of Richmond, Va.; and four grandchildren.

The family requests that memorial contributions be made to the Alameda County Community Food Bank, P.O. Box 2599, Oakland, CA 94614, (510) 635-3663.

The UC Berkeley English Department will hold a memorial service followed by a reception at 3 p.m. Saturday, May 7, in Wheeler Hall, Room 315.
I've been asked to speak at the service. That's why I'm going through box after box of my old papers to find every Julian Boyd artifact I can. It's painful, but in a good way. I just wish I could shake the feeling that I'm going to see him when I'm in the Bay Area. Than again, I suppose I will be in his presence, even if a face-to-face meeting is no longer possible.
  • Current Music
    a memory of Sparklehorse, with thanks to ODP

Worth the Trip

Because she will be making the entry private in a day or two, I want to direct you to Kim's final installment in the story of her times with "Eldorado" -- "ED" for short -- the San Francisco vice cop who figures in many of her stories of life on the streets. Be advised that, although the content is decidedly NC-17, it has some very funny moments and makes for great reading aloud.

While I was monitoring the midterm in my English 380 class this morning, I searched "Eldorado" on Lexis-Nexis and found all manner of interesting material confirming that he'd be the perfect candidate for one of those gritty, rise-and-fall films about police life. It always trips me out when I find documentary evidence for someone's personal stories, particularly when they are as filled with drama as Kim's tend to be. It brings home their reality in a different way.

I've been thinking a lot, in conjunction with my documentary course, about the way major historical events are refracted through individual lives. The moments when the private record is briefly tangent to the public record are sites of tremendous energy transfer, Hoover Dams of difference:
Me and ED went on like this for a while. I lived in the Baywood Motel and worked the streets. ED pretended to believe that I lived in South San Francisco and worked at the airport. A couple of months into our thing, all hell broke loose in San Francisco. Some crazy homophobic cop Dan White went on a rampage in City Hall and murdered Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. I was at ED’s the day after it happened. ED was all shook up.

“He was a good cop,” ED pleaded about Dan White. “He trained me. He taught me everything I know.”

I bet.

One night not too long after that I was sitting in a booth at Pan Pan on Geary eating eggs and toast. Some old guy in a suit came over and sat next to me. He pulled a little velvet jewelry box out of his pocket and opened it. A little diamond studded gold heart was in it.

“I’ve been watching you,” the man said. “You’re just like this heart. Pure gold. Here, I want you to have it.”
I was sitting on the living room rug in our Pennsylvania home when regular programming was interrupted to give word of the Moscone and Milk killings. I can feel the coils of Colonial-style braided wool pressing into my legs and thighs as I recall the moment. If my pre-teen memory serves me correctly, Dianne Feinstein came on the television, looking dazed in front of the cameras. Everything was a shade of gray. Now, the recollection of that special report overlaps with a question I don't want to work too hard answering. What was Kim doing that afternoon? It sure as hell wasn't watching television after an action-packed day of elementary school. And yet, we've lived and loved together for fifteen years despite that Grand Canyon-sized divide between us.
  • Current Music
    the throb in the back of my head